Saturday, June 3, 2017

American Political Dénouement

Since the unexpected election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States, I have been struggling to frame my thoughts on the matter. Plenty of others have already described the electoral strategies and polling errors that explain why the political prognosticators got their predictions so wrong, so there’s little for me to add there … though I was equally wrong. Instead, I keep returning to the concept of an historical inflection point—a point at which things begin to change more rapidly than usual, whether for better or for worse. Recognizing the beginning of this inflection point drove one of the most dramatic decisions of my life, so the remarks that follow will be both personal and historical.

While many commentators have explained the electoral results accurately enough, only a few have touched directly on some of the deeper social and cultural issues. These are historically and politically interesting, so I will add my comments to the record here before indulging in more personal and philosophical commentary. However, my interpretation is no doubt incomplete … and keep in mind that where I impute political motive, I do not imply malevolence. Political organisms are fundamentally amoral, but I assume that individual political actors are pursuing good intentions—even if their would-be leaders are in fact sociopaths.

First, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee orchestrated the most impressive propaganda assault in American history, if not in all of human history. As frightening as it was, I do have to confess my awe. In collusion with the predominantly “liberal” mainstream news media, the Democrats engineered Hillary Rodham Clinton’s nomination over the more populist Bernie Sanders and positioned the obviously unelectable Trump as her opponent from the Republican Party.

Once he had secured the Republican nomination, the media launched an all-out attack upon Trump’s character. Donald Trump is boorish and impolitic, but that doesn’t make him a racist or a sexist. The allegations and “news” stories that I examined collapsed under minimal scrutiny, though I remain ready to be convinced by solid evidence. Again, very little malevolence is implied … at least below management levels. Would-be journalists pursued salacious stories until their political biases were confirmed and no further. In short, their work was lazy and incompetent, but I have no doubt that they thought they were serving the common good.

Of course, that is the historical irony. The mainstream media exercised their greatest moment of influence just when they lost control of the public narrative. Even though they couldn’t sway the overall architecture of the electoral cycle, alternative media sources on both the political right and the political left could and did point out mainstream propaganda on countless occasions. Though this honesty didn’t change my own curmudgeonly vote, I’m quite sure it did influence many, many others.

Here, I must also note that no grand conspiracy was required. Both parties were simply acting in their own interests. The Clinton campaign worked hard to make sure that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be displaced by another upstart, and the left-leaning media wanted to actualize its vision for the arc of history. As the WikiLeaks releases showed, there was direct collusion to some extent, but general goals were shared regardless.

Second, political kinisthesis had its effect, if barely. Voters have been sorting themselves throughout the United States. “Liberals” have been migrating to the coastal and urban bastions of restrictive regulatory schemes, high tax burdens, and generous public welfare benefits. “Conservatives” have remained in or moved to the rural reaches of “flyover” country, where governments are a little less intrusive. These latter voters tipped enough of the right states in Trump’s favor to win him the Electoral College, even though Hillary won the more populous states.

I retreated from California partially in acknowledgement of this effect just over three years ago. While my adopted state of Washington also went to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party has been losing ground in this arena, dropping 3.4 percentage points since AD2008. Other electoral results suggest political change, as well. For example, my county commission tipped from Democratic officers to “independents” this time around. Contrast this trend with California, where an even more dominant Democratic Party held onto its position or made moderate gains … and where the Republican Party lost 5.5 percentage points since the AD2012 Presidential contest.

This process is ongoing and may in fact accelerate in the coming years, as “conservative” cohorts of the baby-boom generation retire and migrate out of expensive “liberal” states. (I may have been ahead of the curve on this particular social surge.) The importation of left-leaning future voters has been exposed as the Democratic Party’s main countermeasure to this trend, but it will probably be stalled for at least the next four years. Even then, efforts to normalize illegal immigration have mostly affected states that the Democrats already control—but I will return to demographic transitions a little bit later.

My study of history has broadly focused on identifying causal relationships or their agents and their long-term social effects. This holistic examination of historical causation has given me the faintest glimmer of understanding for the historical forces and possibilities that act upon human civilizations. As usual, these are easier to recognize in hindsight, and no one has advanced a satisfactory theory of historical prediction to my knowledge, so what I attempt might best be described as metahistorical analysis.

At least, it is a means to understand why your initial prediction was wrong. What you thought would happen—or wanted to happen—just wasn’t historically possible. That’s where I was at the end of AD2013, when I made the decision to leave California. The historical model I was working to actualize collapsed. California was not going to become the state I needed it to be within my lifetime … or more importantly within my daughter’s lifetime.

The arc of American history had entered an inflection point. Therein, the possible outcomes became especially murky. Dramatic change comes out of inflection points. They can be times of glorious revolution or of horrific social disaster. We’re seeing the beginning of that now—and human civilization may lie in the balance.

Global historical trends may be better served in some future post, but as we emerge from the inflection point, they will all become relevant. The United States has merely been on the leading edge of Western history by some combination of luck and genius, becoming the bellwether of Enlightenment culture. If we Americans fail, the odds of Western civilization surviving the 21st century drop considerably, I suspect.

What did the election mean in this respect? Will President Trump and a Republican Congress tip us up the positive curve? Would a President Hillary Clinton have sent us down the negative curve? I don’t know. I expected terrible developments under a Clinton administration, but these also might have stoked the political will to make real positive change—or they might have literally destroyed the republic. The Trump years will avert any immediate disaster, I’m quite sure. We have at least a second chance to shore up the institutional safeguards that protect constitutional governance and individual opportunities and freedoms. However, if that fails to occur, I doubt the political will can ever again be rallied to fight for those values.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be—and there has been no shortage of jokes wondering about what’s happening on the “real” timeline. Impressive as it was, the collusion to put Hillary Clinton into the White House backfired. An honest election would have seen Bernie Sanders, championing progressive socialism for the nation, facing off against someone like Rand Paul, advocating for individual freedom and opportunity. Important issues would have been discussed … and the future of civilization would have been decided in an informed manner.

Instead … we called each other deplorable names.

What is historically possible? We’ve accomplished many great things in the 300 some years since the Enlightenment, and we’ve made some terrible mistakes. Some of these mistakes are obvious in retrospect (unnecessary wars, ethnic pogroms, and other episodes of unjustified violence). Others were more subtle, and some were metahistorical in nature, beyond the scope of individual or corporate actors to manage. For example, the direct political empowerment of women occurred almost as soon as it was historically possible, but the institutions of democratic governance built up by men over the last few thousand years were not designed for women’s different decision-making priorities and processes. Without adequate safeguards, a certain amount of social damage has resulted from this political transformation, affecting crime patterns, family cohesion, and perhaps even cultural survival. Again, little or no ill intent was involved. The sociological basis for human male and female behavioral differences had not been studied at the time of the universal suffrage movements, and the ongoing and almost religious refusal in some quarters to acknowledge that these differences even exist remains a significant part of the problem.

No one expected D. J. Trump to be elected, but his election moved us out of the inflection point—as would have Hillary Clinton’s. I was wrong. The political prognosticators were wrong. We all forgot the underrepresented demographic in American electoral politics. Right or wrong, we’ll be living with the consequences for at least several years to come. The question that remains is whether American political factions can still settle their differences peacefully in the long run.